Madison Schill, Su La Po’s founder, wears many hats. She is a former jet-setting model, ELLE Canada’s fashion writer, and associate producer in the fashion industry. Ever since she retired from modelling at the age of 19, she has been diligently working to empower women and open the scope of inclusivity in beauty throughout media. We had a chance to sit down and have an hour-long conversation with her about how she started Su La Po.
"I know what it feels like to feel like a monster, to feel
worthless and to feel like the ugliest person and I never
want young girls to have to feel that way."
Can you tell us about how and why you started Su La Po?
Su La Po came as an extension of a blog that I had created with my best friend right after I retired from modelling, called Mind Over Model. Mind Over Model was about giving you tools and guidance that would empower you while you were getting into or leaving the modelling industry. We wanted to remind people that you are beautiful any size - which is something that may be very obvious and intuitive now, but five years ago wasn’t at all.
I had done Mind Over Model for two years and I was still in school, and during that time I was a fashion writer at ELLE Canada. I started delving deeper into beauty and skin care, understanding how brand and editors speak to the consumer, and I felt like there was something missing with respect to why people recommend products. I often find that most products given to editors for review are immediately touted as “the best product” or “editor’s top picks”, and that turn over happens every month. That made me wonder how do you know what is true and how do you know what’s going to work on your skin, because most people that are trying it have different skin types.
So for Su, we started off by having people test products with varying skin tones and types for at least three months, and then give honest feedback. We also do brand consultancy, where we work with start-up beauty brands to make their marketing and communication more inclusive, direct and diverse. We are really broadening the scope, it’s not just about beauty. It’s about being empowered, knowledgeable, being aware, and knowing that speaking up does not diminish or dilute your worth - that’s the compass of Su at the moment.
Su La Po’s mission is strongly rooted in empowering women. Can you explain why this is so dear to your heart?
I worked as a model for many years growing up, and I was pushed around a lot and told how ugly I was all the time by people that I worked with. It was very crippling for me and I just want people to feel comfortable using their voice, using their powers, and using their talents. It’s rooted in empowerment because women need to be empowered, and there’s a need for it.
We love how grounded you are! Do you have any morning or evening rituals that help you stay balanced?
I always carry a journal with me everywhere I go - so I’m always writing down thoughts and quotes. I have boxes of journals under my bed that I’ve written in since I was six. Writing is rather calming to me because it helps to move things out of my head and just place them onto paper.
Skin care to me is very calming as well, just about taking care of yourself. So every morning and every evening I always have a skin care ritual, and it’s just really calming to know that it’s going to happen in the morning and at night. Even if you’ve done nothing all day, it’s good to know that you’ve got that part done.
In terms of wellness, every morning I have a spoonful of collagen in my coffee, and I have a blend of adaptogenic herbs that I put in my coffee to sooth my adrenals, which has a bunch of different calming herbs such as lion’s mane, chaga, and ashwagandha powder in it. I also put in tocos powder, which is a rice bran, soluble fiber and has a lot of Vitamin E.
From your previous experience in working as a model, writer, founder and associate producer, you seem to be super energetic and active - what keeps you going?
I think the possibility of what there can be in the world is what motivates me. What is possible is floating around me - all these loose molecules, in a sense. And in an odd way, I feel like it’s my job - and my passion - to try to gather these pieces together and squish them into something solid; like a star being formed. The idea of constantly spotting new things to grab and put together to fill the space that I take up is very inspiring to me. I also love talking to people, I like meeting people, having an hour-long conversation, and I would love to do that with every person on the planet.
What would you say to your 18 year old self?
“You will look like yourself again, and it gets better,
but you can’t give up on your own identity,
listen to your gut and don’t protect your heart too much.”
When I was 19, I was really quite confused, tired, and isolated in my career as a model. I was always travelling, and I eventually I became so fatigued that my body started shutting down. I developed various conditions where my body would have stress reactions to itself, so my immune system was weak and my cortisol levels were the highest that my doctor said she’d ever seen. I was in fight-or-flight mode for two years consecutively. From the ages of 18 to 21, I sort of became aware of my mortality, and it was - very paradoxically, however - a gift because it was something that people don’t ever experience or only experience when they are older. I look back on it now and I’m really grateful for these experiences. I would go through them again to get to where I am now, but I never would want anyone else to feel that way.
What's one skincare product you can't live without?
Biologique Recherche P50. It’s a toning solution that regulates your sebum production, so in the summer it helps to keep your face not as oily, and in the winter it produces a bit more so it can prevent dry and flaky skin. It works really well with hyperpigmentation, helps fade scarring and helps to heal the skin, giving even tone. Most importantly, it prepares your skin for anything you put on after it - it really increases the efficacy of all of your other products like serum by preparing your skin with this solution. It’s a catalyst for a lot of optimization that people are looking for - it also works on all skin type, and lasts at least 8 months and it’s reasonably priced.
Interview conducted by Yuri Hirama